Saturday, May 29, 2010

Chocolate - from Bean to Bar

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks, partly because I've been too busy to bake and partly because I was out on vacation. I spent last week in Belize on a chocolate tour sponsored by Taza Chocolate, a chocolate maker in Boston, MA. It was one of those things on my bucket list that I wanted to do “someday” and, thanks to my friend Kendra (Kendra's blog) who told me about the trip and talked me into teaming up with her in the Jungle House cabana at Cotton Tree Lodge near Punta Gorda, Belize, I got the opportunity to experience chocolate making from bean to bar.

When most people think of chocolate making, they picture vats of warm melted chocolate swirling around before pouring them into candy bar molds and cooling. It’s a nice visual but that’s actually the last two stages of chocolate making: tempering and molding. Or last 3 stages if you count eating as the final step. Further up the chocolate making chain, you actually need to start with the cacao bean itself. This is where chocolate ultimately comes from.

Cacao beans grow within cacao pods which are from the cacao trees. The pods grow directly out of the tree trunk and there’s some fancy flora and fauna name for that kind of plant but I can’t remember what it is from the tour and am not trying to be uppity in knowing what it’s called.
We visited a cacao farm in Belize owned by a 51-year-old man named Eladio Pop. The “Pop” part of his name was pretty accurate as Eladio is the father of 15 children. His oldest is 31 and has 5 kids of her own. His youngest is 2 years and 4 months. Eladio split open a cacao pod to show us the cluster of beans inside and we each got to taste one. Let me assure you it’s a far cry from the ultimate finished product of chocolate that the beans produce. Hence why the processing is so important.

After the beans are removed from the cacao pods, they’re put in containers and set to ferment in the heat and humidity of their native country, be it Belize, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, etc. Beans can ferment anywhere from 2-6 days. The longer they ferment, supposedly the more developed the flavor. Some chocolate makers, such as Taza, only source beans that are 90% fermented while more common and large-scale operations like Green & Black only require 70% fermentation. Everyone’s tastes are different but for the chocolate snob in us all, they traditionally favor the more fermented beans. You don’t let the beans just sit there fermenting either. You have to mix them all around to get the fermentation going.
To be continued in the above post.....(have to go workout now)


  1. Really interesting Carol. I had no idea that chocolate started out looking so icky! :)

  2. Sue, it doesn't taste so good in its natural state either :). You have to give props to whoever came up with the chocolate making process to produce the chocolate we know today (I want to say it's Lindt but I have to look up my chocolate resource books to confirm).